Ky. happy with storm response

Obama praised, but many still without power

David Strange filled Jimmy Timmons's portable generator with fuel on Sunday in Columbus, Ky., after electric service to his house was knocked out following a winter storm. David Strange filled Jimmy Timmons's portable generator with fuel on Sunday in Columbus, Ky., after electric service to his house was knocked out following a winter storm. (Jeff Roberson/ Associated Press)
By Roger Alford
Associated Press / February 3, 2009
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EDDYVILLE, Ky. - In the first real test of the Obama administration's ability to respond to a disaster, Kentucky officials are giving the federal government good marks for its response to a deadly ice storm.

Yet more than 300,000 residents remained without power yesterday, and some areas had yet to see aid workers nearly a week after the storm, a fact not lost on some local authorities.

"We haven't seen FEMA; they haven't been here," said Jaime Green, a spokeswoman for the emergency operations center in Lyon County, about 95 miles northwest of Nashville.

Federal authorities insisted they responded as soon as the state asked for help, and they promised to keep providing whatever aid was necessary.

FEMA has been under the microscope since the Bush administration's botched response to Hurricane Katrina in 2005, which Barack Obama and other Democrats made a favorite topic on the presidential campaign trail.

FEMA was reorganized and strengthened after that, and it has avoided the onslaught of negative feedback Katrina generated.

Governor Steve Beshear, a Democrat, raised Kentucky's death toll to 24 yesterday, meaning the storm has been blamed in at least 55 deaths nationwide. While it also knocked out power to more than a million customers from the Southern Plains to the East Coast, it is still considered a medium-size disaster, the kind FEMA has traditionally been successful handling.

The Kentucky disaster will be closely watched, said Richard Sylves, professor of political science at the University of Delaware, particularly because Obama has not yet named the top FEMA officials, many of whom must go through Senate confirmation.

Beshear asked Obama for a disaster declaration to free up federal assistance Thursday, two days after the storm hit, and Obama issued it hours later. Trucks loaded with supplies began arriving at a staging area at Fort Campbell, Ky., on Friday morning, said Mary Hudak, a spokeswoman for the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

On Saturday, Beshear ordered all of the state's Army National Guardsmen into action to distribute supplies, many of which came from FEMA.

Beshear has consistently praised Obama, a fellow Democrat, for the attention he has devoted to what Beshear calls the biggest natural disaster to hit his state.

Trina Sheets, executive director of the National Emergency Management Association, based in Lexington, Ky., said that from what she's heard, FEMA's response has been very good so far.

"FEMA and the Kentucky National Guard are doing everything they can to get things back up and running," said Senator Jim Bunning, a Republican.

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